Interview with Jairo Sánchez

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Jairo Sánchez Velandia is a Colombian 3D artist who actually work on the Video Games industry, his career started when he decided to study Multimedia Engineering (2006), it was a new career in his hometown, but he realized it wasn’t what he liked the most because it was focused on programming and he’d prefer the visual and artistic area such a 3d modeling and applying textures for video games. Because of this, he went to study in Orlando (Florida). He arrived to the Full Sail University, where he studied Art For Video Games, he studied for about two years and worked in different academic projects. Once he graduated, he went to Los Angeles, California, where the biggest video games industries headquarters are. In this place, he started making different course at the Gnomon School of Visual effects, where the teachers worked not only giving classes, but also worked at the industry, because of this he was able to getting contacts and knowing important people of this area.

Jairo started modeling in 3D some characters and props, which are chairs, desks and different objects used on a video game, and texturized them. With this he started his portfolio, always focused on the Blizzard style because he always wanted to work there. Jairo showed his work as a demo real on an event where recruiters of different companies went to the university searching for new talents. After this, he started with an entry level job on the Carbine Studios at Aliso Viejo, California where he started working on the game Wild Star. On his job as an entry level, he had to do a bit of everything such as 3D models, textures, some things of animation and fixing bugs, which are errors that need to be fixed before the deadline of any job.

While he was working at Carbine Studios he was also focused on his desire of working at Blizzard, and he worked on his free time on models and ideas for his portfolio with the cartoony style for presenting them to the Blizzard company.

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Later in 2014, he went to the annual event prepared by Blizzard called Blizzcon, this event lasts two days and lets people know the new games, talk to the filmmakers, artists, programmers, designers and animators; there are also conferences and it’s a good place for networking a knowing what’s going on in the real industry. On this event, Sánchez talked to the Art Director of Blizzard and made the contact for sending his portfolio. After some days he was called by the Art Director who offered him a job on the Star Craft and Heroes of Stone game, he took the job and he is working there from the two last years.

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How was your experience at Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games and Animation?

At the beginning, I planned to just stay at California for around two weeks. I visited the campus and finally decided to stay for a whole year enrolled in different courses -always focused on the graphics and visuals, I am not the programmer kind of person. The school offers courses in almost everything you could look for: animation, texturing, composition, modeling, sculpting as well, it is possible to assist to monthly conferences that they organise with specialised guests that go there and talk with you. The school also has software workshops and if I was far, it was possible to access at whatever hour I want to the online library.

In Gnomon everyone is willing to help you. If you want an advice other students as well s teachers were willing to help you, but what I liked the most of this school was that the teachers were active members in the real industry, this means that it was a good cornerstone (as a student) to create connections.

With all these events the school constantly organised, I decided to participate in one of those where recruiters go by presenting my “Demo reel,” a short videoclip in which I showed my portfolio; different persons of different companies watched my work and I gave them my business cards, in that mini-fair I met my first contact in Carbine Studios.

Which are the principal areas that work together on the creation of the games?

In the company where I work, there are different teams where each member has its own “specialization” and each one is in charge of a specific job:

  1. In first place, there is the area of the concept artist, who makes the drawings and illustrations.
  2. We have also the artists who are in charge of all the visual part but they have also specific jobs such as:
  • Environmental artists: make trees, houses, backgrounds and the general environment of the world they are working in.
  • Prop artists: they make the chairs, beds, lamps and different objects depending of the game.
  • Weapon artist: they work on the weapons.
  • Character artists: are in charge of making the characters, armor, and creatures.
  • Effects artists: they get focused on developing different effects such as water, fire and magic.
  1. Another area is Programming one, those who work here are in charge of making the tools so that the visual part and the different dynamics of the game work as it is supposed. Depending on the game, there are many fields for programmers; if it is an online game, there are specific programmers working for it, also different ones for the game functions and for the game engine. The game engine it’s the program where we insert all the content done by the different artists and is all put together in a “giant 3D space”, is where the game’s universe is created and details are add.
  1. There are also Designers who work on the dynamics of how the game will be played, and the kind of game the market needs. For example, if it will be a FPS “First Person Shooter” such as Call of Duty or Halo where you only see the hands of the character and the rest of the screen it’s the scenario, or if it will be a MMORPG “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing game, such as World of Warcraft where you can completely see your character and all his movements. The designers also decide how much lives the character will have, how it will be the dynamic for passing from one level to other, and all about the game development.
  1. The Tec Art or rigging area is the one where we take the character modeled and we insert the armor so that the character can move.
  1. The animators create the movements of the characters and general animations of the scenes.
  1. The producers who are in charge of making sure that all the due dates are accomplish.
  1. The administrative area which I do not know in deep .

In which area of the described ones do you actually work? 

I work on the artistic area, with all the visual creations, we are called the 3D generalists and the team is conform by 9 member. We are not specialized on just doing one thing -as some people could imagine, but we must do all the process (Pipeline); starting from the design on 2D, then the 3D model, textures, the rigging, the animation, effects and finally inserting everything on the game engine, and well that what I have to do.

What is the difference between the way your team works and a normal pipeline process?

From the beginning of the concept everyone has a specific role in the making of the objects. The team is bigger than mine and every person get to be better in only one phase of the process, all of them decided together, however the work itself is made separately.

First, the character designer proposes, them the boss accepts and the in charged of the modeling starts working at the same time with whom got to make the texturing, after this the rigging, the animation (and its effects) and de dynamics are created by different professionals.

Which are the different types of video games you have worked with?

  • FPS: First Person Shooter like Halo
  • RTS: Real Time Strategy as Starcraft
  • Racing games: such as cars games
  • Adventures games: like Mario and Zelda
  • RPGS: Roll Playing Games, such as Final Fantasy and Dark Souls
  • Mmorp: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, such as Warcraft
  • Indie games: are the ones created by independent developers

On which Video Games have you worked?

  1. Wild Star on Carbine Studios.
  2. Star Craft 2 on Blizzard.
  3. The second part of Star Craft 2 (that is like a game into the game) on Blizzard.
  4. Some objects in World of Warcraft.
  5. I also made some academic projects at the university, one of them was flying simulator that was made for teaching 12 years old kids the history of aviation.


In your opinion, what is the difference between video games and animated movies effects? 

Principally, the difference is the budget, not just in terms of money but in terms of quality for the performance of every part of the production. For movies, the render has to be done just one time, once the film is completed, there is no need of going back to render. On the other hand, for video games specially those played online, the computer have to render all the time because it is played on real time. So, the fact is that for the video games you have to achieve a high quality product with less resources, so every object placed on the game engine could be rendered without spending lots of time and servers capacity.

What is the harder part of your job?

Needing to know a bit of everything, as I explained before it is hard, but it is also interesting because I can learn lots of things about areas in which I am not so strong and in this way I may get better.

Which is the area in which you think you are better prepared?

Applying textures and color is what I like the most and I feel it is the skill I have trained the most.

How you prepare yourself for improve your skills?

Working on the real industry, I realize that we truly learn the most of the career when we are really working, needing to achieve goals and deadlines and having to improve so that your work can be really taken into account. What I have learned in Blizzard I could not have learned it in any other place, been here have helped me to learn not only from my experience, also from the experts that have been working for much more years than me, I  ask them for advice, see their work and learn about it.

Could you talk us about your creation method when developing the Pipeline?

The process for any games is like this:

  1. Create the 2D concept art, starting with a drawing and in this way you have the idea of how the model will be.
  2. Start the 3D modeling, where softwares like Autodesk Maya or 3Ds Max are my best allies.
  3. Texturize and apply colors.
  4. Import the final model to the game engine where you add lights, more details and make the final render of the models.


In which Pipeline phase could you be better at?

The one thing I like the most but I know I am not the best is the illustration phase, where the design and enlightenment is done. Even though I am aware it is something hard to me, I make it when I have to, I give the best of me and I try to learn new things every day. On the other hand, an area that challenges me is the rigging, because I do not have enough tools due to the fact that it requires of too much programming techniques and it is not so artistic, and I am more related to the visual and artistic field.

What kind of 3D models you do the most?

It depends on the game we are working for. For example, last year one of my colleagues and I modelled all the creatures and characters for a game. Currently we need some buildings, so that is what I am working on. But what I like the most is creating different characters and their typologies.

How is the design process and the election of the definitive arts?

Normally, if the team have a Concept Artist, this person is the one in charge of developing the design proposals to the Elite Artist who approveS the best option. Finally, they pass the illustration to us, the 3D artists. If the team does not have a concept artist’s proposal, we as generalists are also in charge of making design proposals and after the approval we also develop them indeed.

How much time have you been working on the last video game?

Two years, since 2014, because a game has been released, it does not mean that the complete project is over. The first version of Star Craft was launched in the 1998 and the second version on the 2010, which is the one I am working with. The thing is that after finishing a game we develop the expansions, this is an extra content that lets gamers continue playing and that the game does not vanish in thin air, we produce new expansions every year (or sometimes two)  with new stories and levels.

We also continue working on the games because on the online versions players report problems, so the programmers start working to fix them  with a “patch”, which is a type of upgrade available to download.

What part of your job do you like the most?

My favorite part is the Illustration, everything that has to do with painting, textures, and using Photoshop. I also like Concept Art (the most I produce), but I enjoy the most illustrating because even though it is not my great strength I liked it so much because it is possible to tell stories with drawings and designs, you can get closer to the person who is playing the video game; in the concept art it is more about the “how” an object or a character has to look in the scene.

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How do you evaluate your own job?

While I am working, my method for evaluating my process is to insert the proto-model into the game engine. In this way, I can see how does the character will act into the scene and I can fix and improve things while I am on the process.

In order to get close to Sánchez’s style and way of understanding the Pipeline, he told us his creative process as shown in the following images. Checking his portfolio we chose a piece he made for World of Warcraft, from this moment we were asking him about the ax the orc is holding on this right hand.

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Image No. 5

What was your main inspiration when starting this piece?

My main inspiration sources were the game’s story, the brief or the description that the Design team gave to me, and the former versions of the game. They are the three things I always take into account to start working. Nowadays, I work in the video games’ extensions, reason why I analyze the former background.

In this case, the reference I had was simply the orc, that’s how I started. The goal was to make a weapon for that character. So, I questioned myself: How is the character’s personality? In which moments would it appear? What materials composed its armor? I realized that the orc had chains and his armor had kind of lava or some matter that seem like fire, with that data I chose the color palette for the axe.

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What role does the 2D Concept Art has on your work?

It is the most tangible result of the first phase of the creative process that must respond to the character’s attributes and of course, the game. I always present the Concept Art as an illustration made in Photoshop. Considering the possibilities this software gives me to edit images and play with different color. It is my reference to fully design the axe. Getting to know the character I am designing for is the pillar of my job, but only with the concept I am able to propose the object, in this case a weapon.

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Image No. 7

How did you create this Concept Art?

This process starts sketching a lot; I draw different forms without any detail. I just delineate silhouettes that let me imagine the shape of what I will finally end up with. As mentioned before, I get focus only in the form not the details in order to accelerate the process. After having a lot of small and very basic drawings, outlines and silhouettes -up to twenty or more, I select the most complete design. The next thing I do is to render it. I start painting it in Photoshop, one of the most useful tools in this industry.

For example, the “816 Tris” that is near the axe (Image No. 7) means the weapon’s budget. In other words, it is a very cheap creation. On top (Image No. 7) there is the axe as a mesh, it is a 3D wireframe made with Autodesk Maya. Finally, on the right corner of the image the texture is named as “512×512” which means the object resolution.

What does it mean the “Tris” budget?

In order to animate a character (previously modeled) it is important to work with clean surfaces that reduces the spent time correcting the polygons on a specific mesh. Using tris means that the model will have less mistakes in the surface and the smoothness in the render construction. The motors present in the graphic card memories that use the 3d modeling software reduce all information to triangles.

Sometimes you should use the lowest quantity of polygons to safe memory and be sure I am not working “in vane;” if I spent so much time making very detailed forms -and adding triangles to my mesh- I would be losing my time because may be nobody is going to be aware of the changes while playing the game.

For animate a model sometimes I sculpt a fast model and then I produce a new one with higher resolution (more tris) in which I improved the texture and some details I could not fixed in the previous one. To achieve this I had to learn very well the UVs’ mapping process, otherwise the texturing part would not get okay in neither the concept art model nor the dynamics.

What is the most common process you use to create a texture?

The textures are often super-rare, this ax (the metal part) is wrapped around the 3D model. To do this I located the skin of the object as if it were a plane (made in Photoshop) and then connect the texture to the model.

A three-dimensional model cannot be painted at once, it is necessary to use the UVs; this means that we have to take the three-dimensional model, exploded it into pieces and place it in a space from 0 to 1, so called. In that space you arrange the pieces according to the size of the object, considering biggest part that the player is going to see -in this case I am talking about the metal head, this means I need more resolution at the top than at the bottom of the weapon. The ax head will be seen more because is bigger, so I first grab the head and I unwrapped the UVs, converting a figure from 3D to 2D, and like this I get to organize the pieces within that space from 0 to 1 (512×512) which is the resolution needed for the object.

The 3d model and UVs are created in 3ds Max and Maya. Once you have those, you send them to Photoshop or 3D Code and start to paint the drawings. It is like the guide that tells you where it has to be each of the parts with their respective material to go back to the modeling software and connect the object with the textures. All the models are saved in .targa, we do not use .jpeg because of the quality standards we work with.

Normally, I make the texture and I load it to the Max material, where I connect the image with the material and this one at the same time with the model.

The material has some slots where you can connect the images with. This model is called a “Defeat map” which contains the one of the color, there is also the “Speck map” which is about the brightness of each particular model. So we have two types of textures, one is the color and the second one is the glossiness. For example, you know that a piece of fabric or wood will be less brighter than a metal piece, so although the color has highlights, it doesn’t have as much as the glossiness.

What is essential for you when modeling?

For modeling there will be always needed the Scripts and Hopkins.

The scripts are types of codes that enable people like me to work faster. For example, when working in 3ds Max watching all the tools you have at your disposal is very confusing, so what you want to have is a window to show you all the buttons and commands that you have used in that specific window among the whole project. To open it you have to make a code that allows you to see it. It is a helping tool that is used often; programs come in a standard an common version, sometimes we cannnot even handle them, so what the company do is to build numerous codes and scripts to make the program easier to create our game.

If we want to put the models in our Engine Game then programmers make a button for that, in this way you don’t have to do a lot of steps but simply by pressing that button you will obtain what your are looking for, the model will be taken and placed directly into the engine game, “the game world”, rather than doing it by hand; it is faster and more efficient. There are scripts for 3D modelling, I rather than starting from a cube and start moving the vertices, the scripts helps me to start with another default form.

What do you do for animate the video game objects, characters or clothes?

After the rigging is done you start doing the last changes to the model. However, during the whole process after the art concept I do have to make different tests in order to prove if the model is doing well inside the game engine platform, every single change I made is a new moment in which I am expected to test and correct the visuals that are not working.

How much programs do you work with?

I use lots of programs, but depending on what I am working on I decide which one can give me the best tools for making what I need on each specific project.

Finally, we asked Jairo if he could describe in few words some concepts we were going to ask him for. So, we told him a concept and he quickly answered the main characteristics he thought represented the specific concept, like shown next:

PIPELINE

Brainstorming.
Concept Art.
Modeling.
Uving.
Texturing.
Engine Import.
Final Art.

TEXTURING

Blocking out colors.
Material difinitions.
Painting datails.

CONCEPT ART

Thumbnails.
Blue Prints.
Sketches.
Illustrations.

SOFTWARE

3D packages: Autodesk 3DS Max and Maya.
Photoshop.
Game Engine.

INTERVIEW MADE BY: “Plus 2″  Maria Camila Botía Bocanegra & Juliana Oñate Berrocal

*Images presented in this note were download from JAIRO SÁNCHEZ PORTFOLIO: http://sansajairo.blogspot.com/

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